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What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking. 

This very phrase seems incomprehensible, and yet the sale of souls in our world today is a reality that is as widespread as it is horrifying.

A quick note: human trafficking is also commonly referred to as “trafficking in persons” Some sources will use this term interchangeably, in this post we will consistently use the term “human trafficking.”

Defining human trafficking

Human trafficking is the sale of human beings for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, or organ trafficking.

It’s a $150 billion-a-year industry, making it one of the fastest-growing crimes worldwide. This is a global issue that knows no demographic or geographical boundary.

What is labor trafficking?

Labor trafficking is defined as using violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to force its victims to work against their will.

Victims of labor trafficking produce numerous consumer goods and food products as well as services in a number of different industries. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has identified 136 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor.

A Few Common examples of labor trafficking include:

  • Situations of domestic servitude, where a person is forced to work in a home without proper compensation, or without the freedom to leave at their will for fear of ramifications.
  • Agricultural workers – oftentimes this looks like migrant workers that are recruited under false promises of pay, with exorbitant recruitment, legal, and transportation fees that leave an individual with crippling debt. These workers are also vulnerable to false information regarding their legal immigration status, or situations where an employer uses their illegal status as a threat.
  • Traveling sales crews move from city to city and between states going door-to-door, often selling fraudulent products like magazine subscriptions. Crew members are viewed as independent contractors, shielding companies from regulation and liability. Teens and young adults are targeted, and managers control all aspects of their lives on the road with these crews.


What is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking occurs when an assailant uses force, fraud or coercion to make an individual 18 years or older engage in commercial sex acts (prostitution, pornography, or sexual performance for which anything of value is given or received). Under U.S. law, a minor induced into commercial sex is a victim of trafficking – regardless of whether there was force, fraud, or coercion. The term referred to by direct service providers and law enforcement is commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

Human trafficking is not always apparent.

There are many other forms of trafficking that don’t fall distinctly under labor or sex trafficking. We certainly have not listed all possible forms of human trafficking here, but hopefully, this list will show various ways that people are exploited in a manner that can be classified as human trafficking. Other ways people are exploited may include:

  • Because of a worldwide scarcity of available donations for transplants, organ trafficking is a means for desperate people to find alternate organs. This increased demand has created a black market and various methods of acquiring organs to sell.
  • Child soldiers are serving in armed conflicts around the world. These children are abducted or recruited by force, while others join out of desperation and survival. This typically happens in areas of major armed conflict as families are separated and societal structure is deteriorating.
  • Peddling or begging is sometimes part of a larger picture where a person is trying to pay off a debt or is forced to beg or sell wares by the threat of violence or other abuse.

In the U.S., there are over 25 types of human trafficking. Knowing what these forms are and what to look for can help you identify and report human trafficking in your community and abroad, and be able to share with others.

Want to learn more?

To continue your learning of human trafficking and to discover your role in the fight to end human trafficking, register for the “Learn How to End Human Trafficking” course series, and you’ll also get access to Engage Together® toolkits and resources!

If you suspect a trafficking situation call the National Human Trafficking Hotline now: 1-888-373-7888